Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas

A brief reflection:

Oxford English Dictionary Words of the Year

2010 Big Society
2011 Squeezed Middle
2012 Omnishambles
2013 Selfie

From Big Society to Selfie in 3 years. Make of that what you will.

At Christmas, God's selfie (Colossians 1:15) is shared with the world, born into the omnishambles, to create a new society based on peace with God and with one another.

Thankyou for visiting: whatever this season means to you, I hope and pray you have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Muslim Christmas Card

Well done to the Muslim Council of Britain for this Christmas card. I would love for tolerance of Christian festivals and practice to spread to Muslims in other parts of the world, but this is a start. It's also a perfect retort to the usual stories, which actually turn out to be local councillors banning Christian stuff on the pretext that it might offend someone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nativity Factor Winners 2013

Some excellent entries again in the Nativity Factor this year, congratulations to Dai Woolridge, pipped for 1st place last year, another excellent piece this year. Here's the top 3 adult entries, in order, and the winner of the youth category, which is a great take-off of Jeremy Kyle. Which is your favourite?

Top Posts from 2013

Here are the posts that have had the most hits in 2013, total recorded hits according to Bloggers 'interesting' stats reporting are in brackets:

General Synod: Sneaking in a radical growth strategy whilst everyone else is looking at women bishops  (1556)

Church Growth in the CofE - Discussion Paper (1275) short paper for local clergy/churches based on a CofE General Synod paper on church growth

Absent Fathers Day (1154) reflections on a Centre for Social Justice report on fatherhood, or rather the lack of it, in vast numbers of families.

The Church of England, the Gospel and the Future: my prayer for General Synod (993) having seen the agenda for the next synod, the prayer is still in the 'wait' queue. It's mostly about sex, again.

Flashmob Wedding (914) Kate Bottley sets an example to vicars everywhere

Church of England Headline Generator (837) can't take any credit for this, simply a one sentence link to the Beaker Folk

2-Faced Facebook (819) is Facebook a force for good or bad? Or, like all the people using it, both?

Minion Praise (816) excellent.

Church of England - Not Levelling Out (805) doing my Morrissey act on some positive reporting of CofE attendance stats earlier in the year.

David Mitchell on Faith, Atheism and Agnosticism (769) video clip

Christians the most persecuted religious body on the planet (741)

Papal Shortlist (728) not entirely serious. Perhaps we should be thankful someone else got the job.

Youth Run riot in Yeovil (725) possibly not what you're expecting from the headline. That's deliberate.

Most commented was Making Parenting Pay, which isn't saying a lot as most of these posts don't get any comments at all!

Most popular posts overall on this blog are from previous years, on the spirituality or otherwise of Coldplays Mylo Xyloto and this one on the future of the CofE (yes, yet another one, it also generated most discussion), looking at how a church based on having 15,000 full-time frontline staff will cope when it only has 5,000.

More and more traffic to the blog has come via Twitter - it's no coincidence that several of these top posts were written around the time of General Synod, and the #synod hashtag generated a lot more interest than usual. Inter-blog traffic is fading, but thankyou to anyone who's blogged or tweeted a link here, especially Cookies Days, Thinking Anglicans and God and Politics. I hope there's been something worth reading!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gary Barlow Does God: "I pray a lot"

Whatever you think of Gary Barlow and his music, the lyrics of 'God' on his latest CD are intriguing, to say the least:

Tell me
If you found God and he gave you hope
Would you tell the world or save your soul?
If you found God, would you take Him home
Would you open the curtains or keep them closed?
If you found God, if you found God
Would it be your secret?
If you found God, if you found God
Would it be your secret?

Could anyone really be that selfish?
Could anyone really be that cruel?
To keep the king of heaven and earth right next to you

Not sure what faith Barlow has or hasn't got, but I'm 100% with him on the challenge here, God doesn't bless us so we can keep it to ourselves, it's so that others can be blessed. 

Update: just found an interview with Barlow in the Mirror with this snippet:
With another track called God and references to souls, heaven and guardian angels, it is not only Gary’s most introspective work but also his most ambitious to date.
Questioning the whole concept of faith and God, he explains: “I do think about religion loads. It seems like quite an old-fashioned thing now but I’ve started to consider what goes on out there. You do as you get older.
“When big things happen in your life and you lose people you love, you do consider it, definitely.
“I do pray, I pray a lot... usually on take-off because I’m scared of flying. I honestly do. I put my hands together and say, ‘Please God, keep us safe’.
“I don’t know if there is a God but I do say prayers, and I say prayers for people. There are no answers on this record but there are considerations and questions of the whole idea around it.”

Update 2: I'm expecting a royalty fee from the Bishop of Taunton. 

Update 3: and here's Barlow talking about forgiveness, pretty remarkable. 

Update 4: looks like he'll have to pay a lot as well as pray a lot.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"If my sense of what I should do doesn't fit with the Bible, then I'm wrong" ABofC

Excellent snippet of the ABofC on God's guidance, and how you navigate your way when lots of people are trying to tell you what they think God wants you to do. Really helpful stuff on guidance and decision making of any sort. Ht Vic the Vicar.

And that's an excellent looking clergy shirt, if anyone sees them on sale somewhere, let me know.

Mental health - losing out yet again

story on the BBC website today:

Mental health trusts In England have had their funding cut by more than 2% in real terms over the past two years, figures show.
The BBC received data from 43 out of 51 mental health trusts following a Freedom of Information request.
The coalition has guaranteed the NHS budget will rise by 0.1% in real terms over the course of this parliament.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is warning that mental health services are near breaking point.
Separate data for the same period shows referrals to crisis and community mental health teams have risen by 16%.
I really don't see how this squares with the stated commitment of the government to support mental health. Norman Lamb is quoted in the article  bemoaning the state of affairs, which I simply don't get at all. You're the government, in case you'd forgotten! 
High profile summits on dementia research are all very well, and a good thing, but just as important is the day by day support to the millions who already suffer from dementia, depression, anxiety, ocd etc. and for whom local mental health services might be the last thread holding them together. 

update: by 'coincidence' an e-newsletter from Mind and Soul just arrived. How to be a mental health friendly church, articles, testimonies, lots of helpful stuff. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Bishop of Bath and Wells

An introductory vid from the new Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, recorded yesterday as he toured the Diocese.

"The mission that God has given to us: to proclaim Christs love, to live that love, and to share it with others."

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Foodbank

Latest cartoon in Dave Walkers current Advent series. Puts me in mind of a line from a church urban fund chap (can't remember his name), that's it's all very well pulling people out of the river, but we also need to ask why people are falling in in the first place.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Nativity According to Chocolate

An updated version of a talk I posted a few years back, in case anyone is a bit stuck for Christmas talks. It all depends on which of the chocolates/sweets you can get hold of, or which ones people will recognise, there's probably 3-4 too many here anyway.

Apologies in advance for the presence of a couple of Nestle products in the list, I'm sure it works just as well without them. I usually introduce it by talking about chocolate advent calendars, and that even if chocolate and sweets took over Christmas entirely, God's story would still be hidden in there. Then if you've got all the chocolates laid out in the right order, the script almost looks after itself:

A long time ago, God made the Galaxy,
Beautiful, rich, wonderful
And filled it with people, people he made, people he loved, people like you and me, people who were all special to him.
But the people decided they didn’t want to be in God’s Club, they wanted to have their own, without God. That’s a bit like trying to sing with no tune. And everything started to go wrong
Really really Rocky.
Suffering, pain, loneliness, bullying, violence, death
Because we’d chosen our way instead of God’s way
Everything just got really Haribo (horrible)
So to give them a Boost
God promised that things would change.
One day a special person would come and start to put things right.

Many years later, a young woman was FRIGHTENED OUT OF HER WITS
When an angel suddenly turned up
The Angel wondered if he Malteser fear (‘might ease her’) Don’t be scared he said, You’re going to have a son, the Son of God, call him Jesus
A name that means he’ll save people, he’ll make them friends with God again.
And though Joseph, her fiancée, was a bit confused, he was a good egg, you couldn’t hope to meet a Kinder man, so he decided to look after Mary, and God’s baby.

So the story goes that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem
(Mary was heavily pregnant, and Joseph wondered if she’d Flake out on the journey)
Joseph tried to find a place werther could have the baby.
The innkeeper didn’t have any rooms, but he was able to Lindor manger and some straw.
In those days, people often lived in a house with a split floor, animals on the lower level, people on the next, so maybe the innkeeper let them into his home. We don’t know what sort of animals were there, whether there was a Kit Kat, but by morning there was Jesus Nestleing in his mothers arms.

All sorts of strange visitors started to turn up.
Up on the hillside, the kind of place where banditS nicker sheep or two, there were shepherds watching over the flock at night.

they were looking up at the Milky Way, when a strange light appeared in the sky.
The light got nearer and nearer, brighter and brighter
then suddenly what they thought was a star burst into song
a choir of heavenly minstrels praising God in Celebration

the angels said go and see God’s promised saviour
Tell everyone, don’t Wispa, shout it out, God is here.
So straight as an Aero they headed for Bethlehem to find Jesus.
And they were there in a Jaffa

Further away, some wise men were also looking at the sky: the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and they decided to tracker 'n object that had appeared in the sky  and started moving in a strange way.
In the ancient world, all the planets stood for something: Jupiter was the ‘king star’, and at the time of the birth of Jesus, Jupiter appeared in the night sky very close to Saturn, which represented Israel. If you were reading the sky you’d see ‘new king in Israel’.

So the kings packed up their bounty – presents for the new king
And came to see Jesus. They didn’t find him at king Herods palace,
But those wise men were smarties, they didn’t give up
And when they found Jesus they brought out their Kingsize gifts, no Twix, just treats:
Gold for a king, incense for worship, myrrh for death.

And here’s the Crunch ie
The baby Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God into the world
He is Divine, in human wrapping.
God’s gift to you: but you can only taste how good the gift is if you unwrap it.

I hope you do choose to unwrap the gift, choose Jesus, but in the end, it’s your selection.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


If, as David Cameron says

"we are a Christian country"

why are Christians forced to choose between work and faith for not working on Sundays, despite having told their employer beforehand they couldn't do so, and then having their shifts changed? A decision then backed by our court system?

At what point does this sort of rhetoric simply become meaningless (left-leaning readers will probably respond 'as soon as Cameron says it')..?

Christmas Time - thought provoking poem/graphics

I'm going to have to plan some more Christmas services, running out of opportunities to show videos like this one:

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) in Yeovil

Just had the latest newsletter from our local CAP centre. Some fantastic work being done there, here's a few snippets from it:

Please pray for those potential clients who need our help, but can’t get appointments. We are booked up 3 months ahead and had to turn 2 away last week.

To help with the situation we are now delivering 38 Christmas hampers to our current clients, and we have opened a regular drop in centre at St John’s Church every Thursday morning from 10am to 12 noon. As well as being somewhere warm where our existing clients can drop in for a coffee, cake and friendly chat, it’s also useful for anyone with appointments in January or February, or potential clients to come and get some immediate advice. So far this has been very successful. 

We’ve managed to  make a couple of phone calls and avoid court action, bring a very urgent visit forward when we got a cancellation, and by showing what paperwork is needed make the first visit far more effective and less stressful....

..Also anyone who will otherwise be alone, and that includes a lot of our clients, is invited to the Christmas dinner in the schoolrooms on Christmas day.

Please pray for all these events, and that people experience Jesus for real at these events. I think that’s what “The Word became flesh” is meant to mean….

As we look back over another year we have a lot to be thankful for.

  • We’ve now been open a month longer than 2½ years which is the national average.
  • We’ve dealt with 102 clients.
  • 17 of these are now debt free.
  • 10 have made a first time commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ as their saviour as a result of the Grace they’ve been shown and an explanation of the Gospel.
  • 43 are on a debt management plan and are somewhere between initial contact and becoming debt free.
  • 4 have parted company in a very positive way as they now feel empowered to work with their debts themselves and no longer need CAP’s help.
  • 42 are still living in their homes, when they otherwise would have been evicted by their landlord or mortgage provider for arrears.
We were challenged at our 'clergy gathering' last week by a Kiran Martin from India, whose work in the slums was showing what the kingdom of God looks like in terms of transformation of everything - health, work, education, relationships, hearts, relationship with God, government, homes, from whatever angle you looked at it, it was good news. Reading the summary above I get the same feeling. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New CofE Internship Scheme

The Church of England is going national with an internship progamme already running in pilot form in some dioceses. Here's one example, in Stepney.

The framework looks like a good one: "The scheme.....is a one year programme of theological teaching, practical experience and personal development  for young people aged 18-30 who are considering future ministry in the church. The scheme was set up to encourage more young people to consider being involved in ministry and focus on the nine criteria used in the selection of clergy."

So there's a clear focus - testing a calling to ordained ministry - based on actual selection criteria. The details of the Stepney project sound like a standard gap year: accomodation and subsistence provided, with the bonus that all the theological and practical training is provided for free.

15 more dioceses are interested in the the scheme, and the intention is for it to run nationally. Looks good - at the moment there's a gap in the market. Young people with a sense of calling may not be the finished article, but can get frustrated with a long vocations process that keeps them hanging on in uncertainty. Having something to get stuck into will be helpful.

One other thought is whether dots can be joined with things like the Arrow Leadership Programme, run by CPAS for younger leaders in Christian settings, including clergy. It would be good to see a consistent track of personal, spiritual and leadership development worked into the vocations and training process.

update: for people who looked at the CofE link before Tues lunchtime, they've now added a couple of case studies.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A few of my favourite things

Inspired by Tanya Marlows post on the same topic (and with a bit of overlap) here are some of my favourite things. I'll probably think of more as soon as this is posted:

Books - fiction
  • Jostein Gaarder - The Solitaire Mystery. All his stuff is superb, love the story within a story format.
  • JK Rowling - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Especially the last 2-3 chapters. 
  • Jon MacGregor - If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. Poetic. 'If you listen, you can hear it. The city, it sings'
  • Douglas Coupland - Jpod. Well, everything by Coupland.
  • Agatha Christie - devoured these as a teenager, think I read every single one.
  • Simon Parke - Desert Child. Read this on a particularly awful retreat and it was spot on.

  • The Choir - US Christian alternative rock outfit. Still producing superb music after 25 years. Like this
  • Shriekback - bit of teenage oddness in the 80s, unique sound.
  • The Smiths - musically and lyrically brilliant, marmite band
  • Coldplay - also great to play on piano, which is a bonus.
  • U2 - maddeningly inconsistent, usually 2-3 standout tracks on each album, and 2 or 3 they really should have left off. Joshua Tree probably the exception.
  • Evanescence - purely for Fallen, packed with epic tracks. Bring Me To Life is spine-tingling.
  • Jean Michel Jarre - love his early stuff
  • Steve Taylor - razor sharp lyrics, great tunes, bags of energy. 
  • Newsboys - see Steve Taylor
  • New Order/Electronic - bags of classic tunes, quirky, and a bass line to die for.
TV programmes
  • Gigglebiz - kids sketch show with the multi-talented Justin Fletcher
  • Have I Got News for You
  • Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes. Brilliant ending.
  • House of Cards. You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment.
  • The Goodies - haven't seen it since I was small, but usually ended up comatose with laughter on the carpet
  • The Choir: Boys Don't Sing. A masterclass in discipleship, and inspiring others.
  • Live Cricket. You'd never realise, but we used to get it on terrestrial TV. Spent hours glued to BBC2 every summer as a kid.
  • Election night results shows. Can't beat a good all-nighter with the Swingometer.
  • Sherlock. Loved it. Can't wait for the new series.
  • Airplane!  - Watched it 5 times at the cinema alone. 'A hospital? why what is it?'
  • The Usual Suspects -  The twist to end all twists.
  • Shawshank Redemption -  Of course. Brilliant central characters
  • Memento -  incredibly clever film, recreating in the viewer what it's like to have amnesia. But I find it really hard to watch as well, there's so little redemption at work.
  • Spiderman 3 -  Packed with spiritual themes, and does the standard postmodern hero deconstruction thing without having to go all Batman.
  • Up - Brilliant opening 2 minutes, and stays brilliant. 
  • The Incredibles -  Love the interplay of family dynamics and superheroes.
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales - I find that I dislike everything that Clint movies stand for (revenge, individualism, redemptive violence) but find them compelling anyway.
  • Lord of the Rings - can't think of many fantasy books that haven't been ruined by movie adaptations (Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, the Hobbit), but apart from the daft Elf love triangle, LOTR is great. Aragorn rocks. So does Sam.
  • The Full Monty/Brassed Off - having grown up in Sheffield, anything that gives the old city a starring role has to be good. Great stories, and some devastating pictures of the vulnerable male psyche. 'Nobody wants to see this dance'.
  • Shrek. Inventive and hugely quotable.
  • The Matrix. There's a bit of Neo in all of us. Well, blokes anyway.
  • Pay It Forward. Great cast, inspiring story.
John Simm, Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Emma Thomson, Hattie Morahan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Judi Dench, Leslie Nielsen, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Samuel L Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Christopher Ecclestone.

  • Top of Dale Head in the Lake district, looking down the Newlands Valley
  • The moors around Fox House near Sheffield
  • Cologne Cathedral
  • St. Johns College Nottingham, especially the quiet room.
  • Mill House retreats in Devon
  • a cricket pitch, as long as it's not cold or raining
  • round the meal table with my family
  • the waterfalls walk around Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales
Books that have helped me most on my journey with God
Richard Foster - Celebration of Discipline
Gordon MacDonald - Ordering Your Private World
Bill Hybels - Courageous Leadership
Nicky Cruz - Run Baby Run (part of my journey to faith)
Francis Schaeffer - The God Who Is There.

'God's Grandeur' - poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thai Green Curry, cross country running, real ale, alternative worship, politics, the chocolate cake served in Vennels cafe in Durham, cheesy Doritos, old friends, reading to the kids, discovering an 80's track on Spotify that I used to love at school, Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, the Ethiopian orthodox chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, people smiling, the moment in a wedding service where I pronounce them husband and wife.

To see the original list that kicked this off, go to JK Rowborys blog. It's a list that took several months to compose, and when you read the intro you'll understand why.

Your turn!

Christmas in a Nutshell

Really like this